You Don’t Have to Be the Smartest Person in the Room - Advice I Wish I’d Known


If I could go back and tell my younger, less experienced self the things that I wished I had known when I first started, the number one thing I’d say is: “you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room.” 

I was a pastor for 23 years before I started my new journey as a consultant with Vanderbloemen. I’ve sat in a lot of staff meetings, board meetings, brainstorming sessions, and staff retreats. Most of them were painfully boring and wholly unproductive. Many of those meetings consisted of a pastor or “leader” pontificating to the group about why we should do something they wanted us to do. The meetings were usually really light on collaboration and really heavy on the smartest person in the room hijacking the agenda. Sometimes this was unintentional and other times it was deliberate. 

My first church experience blew my mind. I was 21 years old: full of Bible knowledge, passion, and also naivety as to how things worked in a church. I remember my first day on the job. The other pastors invited me to lunch in the church basement to eat with them, and I noticed that the Senior Pastor didn’t get an invite - that should’ve been a red flag. 

For the next hour, I heard about all the problems in the church and many complaints about the Senior Pastor. It was kind of like a bizarre group therapy session for these pastors. You see, these guys didn’t really ever get to share their honest feedback or opinions in a staff meeting, so they shared it amongst themselves during their daily lunches. Was it unhealthy and toxic? Absolutely. Our church had a ton of potential that was never reached because the staff culture was so broken. 

This staff team eventually broke up when, during a staff meeting, the Senior Pastor cocked back to throw a punch at another pastor and many years of frustrations and wounds finally came boiling to the surface into one epic blow-up. The church was never the same after that moment. Families left, people got bitter and took sides, and our impact on the community was diminished for many years to come. 

I’ve noticed that in Bible college and seminary, many pastors get loaded down with biblical knowledge, but really lack the essential leadership training that being a pastor in today’s context demands. I can’t remember my Bible College recommending or requiring us to read a single book on leadership. 

I know this is no longer the case at most schools, but it shows that in the past, some schools overemphasized acquiring knowledge and underemphasized the practical side of ministry. I don’t remember one class that ever taught me how to lead a staff meeting or cast vision. I now have the privilege of getting to interview pastors from all over the United States. I’ve recently started asking them what leadership training they received in Bible college. Most of the time the answer is not much if any leadership training at all.

One of the leadership lessons that I wish more Bible colleges, seminaries, and universities taught was that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Liz Whizman, former vice president of Oracle University, interviewed many executives and determined that there are two types of leaders: Multipliers or Diminishers. 

She wrote an amazing book called Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. In her book, she describes multipliers as leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of everyone else around them. Multipliers tend to ask big strategic questions and get the team talking. So, when a multiplier is leading a meeting, everyone benefits. People actually get smarter and come up with better ideas. The staff team and the whole organization prosper. 

The other type of leader is a Diminisher. Diminishers tend to be know-it-alls, who always must be the smartest people in the room. They create a vortex that sucks the intelligence and energy out of everyone in the room. These leaders are idea killers! They make decisions without consulting with others, they isolate themselves to a small inner circle of trusted advisors. 

They also tend to have constantly changing visions and direction for the organization. Staff members will get frustrated because while they are trying to execute last month’s vision, they get hit with a new idea or plan the following month.

"This paralyzes many churches and Christian organizations and stops healthy growth in its tracks. "


In her book, Whizman studied 150 leaders in 35 different countries and found that as a product of their leadership, diminishers received just less than half of the intelligence and capability of their team. Multipliers, on the other hand, got twice as much (1.97 times) greater intelligence from their people. 

So, here’s where this gets really practical for pastors and leaders today. 

Millennials currently make up the largest portion of the workplace in America. They are constantly asking, “Does this church or company value my input and my contributions?”. 

They want to be a part of the conversation and we desperately need their input and wisdom in the church. 

However, many of these talented leaders and pastors never get the chance to speak into the vision and direction of the organization because they are working for a Diminisher who doesn’t value their opinion. I believe the most effective leaders are avid listeners. They want to hear what their staff members have to say. Millennials don’t want to work for Diminishers, but they will follow a Multiplier anywhere. 

So what about you? Do you tend to be more of a Multiplier or a Diminisher? How you answer that question will have huge implications for your church or ministry. 

My favorite Andy Stanley quote sums up why we don’t need any more Diminishers leading our churches today.

Andy says, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

Try the free Culture Tool to assess the health of your team.